I can guarantee you I get teary-eyed as I type this, because it is the first time and still a sensitive and difficult subject for me.
Cancer took a lot away from me before diagnosis, during treatment, and into survivorship, but eventually I am taking all of that back. Cancer took away my hair…it is growing back. Cancer took away my strength, energy, and immunity…I am slowly but surely getting that back. Cancer put me in a mental funk…I am processing through that. I can continue the list, but overall the majority of everything cancer did to me or took from me, I am gaining back or working on how to get back (or better) to certain aspects of my life pre-cancer. But there is one thing that my second cancer did take from me that I will never get back. Actually, the word stole from me is a better way to describe it…and that is my ability to have children.
The above picture is after they removed the tumor that ended up being Ewing’s Sarcoma. If you are not familiar with my story or did not read my ‘About Me’ section, I will give a quick summary. My form of Ewing’s Sarcoma was extremely rare as it was attached to my uterus. We were hoping the tumor was benign, but it was growing so rapidly that I had to get it out either way. Deep down I knew I was sick again the second they told me they found a mass. When I found out the only way to remove the tumor was to have a hysterectomy, my heart broke into pieces. Especially because the tumor was initially misdiagnosed as a pregnancy…how ironic right? I was not familiar with what a hysterectomy was, I only ever heard about it with older women as they reached menopause. My gynecological oncologist who was performing the surgery was going to try and save my ovaries so I can use a surrogate later in life. That gave me some hope, but he would not know anything until he was in surgery seeing what everything looked like. I trusted him and knew he would do everything he could, I could see the hurt in his eyes that he even had to do this surgery on someone my age. My surgery was expected to take about two hours, and it took double that time because he had to be extremely careful removing the rare tumor. One of my first things I did when I woke up was ask if my ovaries were still in, and unfortunately I did not get the answer I hoped for. October 2nd, 2015 was the day I officially could never make or carry my own child because of cancer at the age of 23.
Not only was I emotionally exhausted from the outcome of the surgery and possibly having cancer again, recovering from the surgery physically was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. For the first few days I was barely conscious and on pain meds to keep me comfortable. When I was starting to be more alert, I was crying from the pain and seeing the incision. I called myself “Frankenstein” for days, because I saw 20+ staples running up my stomach. My belly button even had to be sewn back properly, that is how high the incision ran. I knew all of this had to be done to save my life, but there was nothing anybody could say that could make this better, I felt so ugly. It hurt to move, and honestly I had no desire to. I was ready to give up right then and there. It took a lot of family, friends, docs, nurses, and staff to get me out of my room and practice moving and walking again. Once I was able to get home recovery did get easier and more comfortable, but I did not realize the side effects that were about to come.
Obviously I knew my periods would stop because I did not have any reproductive organs, but I did not realize I was going to be thrown right into menopause. Makes sense, I wasn’t making any more hormones! Let me tell you, menopause sucks for anyone, but menopause at 23 is just wrong. Mood swings, hot flashes, decrease in metabolism, etc. It was simply not fair. The summer of 2016 was like Hades for me. What makes it worse is I had to go through my entire treatment with all of these side effects and the cancer side effects. I could not be on hormones right away since I am considered high-risk for cancer, but thankfully I was given the ok to get on hormones post-treatment, and it has been a big help. Nothing like taking some estrogen every morning! Also, hysterectomy + cancer = decrease in libido…I will be diving into that one next post! Nothing like an awkward post about sex 😉
Anyway, I did not get to process simply having the hysterectomy and not being able to have children because from there I was officially diagnosed with my second cancer, went over treatment, did all my pre-treatment testing, and jumped right into chemotherapy. I am JUST NOW processing my hysterectomy, and this is the longest time I have spent thinking about being public about it: when to post this, how to talk about it, and if it will help. It is at the top of my list to process in therapy. I knew what to expect with cancer for the most part, even though no two people or cases are alike, but with this I did not know what to expect. I was lucky enough to have a staff member mentor me with what was going to happen surgery wise, but to this day I have not met a young woman who has had a similar experience. I guess that is a good thing, but it is difficult sometimes because I feel like I am alone with it.
I know there are some women who unfortunately cannot have children without any reasoning like mine, and my heart goes out to you and I hope this does not offend you, but I need to let my feelings out in order to properly heal. I still feel as if this was stolen from me, because no matter what I do, I will never get it back. Maybe science will come up with something when I am ready to start a family, who knows. I struggle with this loss on a daily basis, whether it is seeing somebody else having a baby on social media, or seeing a commercial on tv, there is always some reminder out there that I will never experience being pregnant. Some days I look at my scar in a positive way of what I overcame, and other days I see it as being ripped open and having so much taken away from me. I lost something before I even got the chance to have it. Some days I do wish I was pregnant and did not have to go through all that and cancer for a second time, but that would not have been fair to myself or a baby, because I was not ready.
For a long time I also felt like I was not a “full” woman anymore, I even told my surgery team that I felt empty inside. Since they had to remove all of my reproductive organs and I could not have somebody’s children, I felt less of a woman and feared no man would want to settle down with me. I would be lying to you all if I said I do not fear this anymore, because I do. But, I do know I am still a woman, a strong woman, despite what was taken from me, and I hope to find a man one day that loves me and my story and the effects that come with it.
I promise this post is not all negative, typing this negativity out is giving me a sense of relief, and I know it will get better over time. Although I cannot have my own child, that does not mean I will never be a mother. I always knew I wanted to be a mom and have a family. I love children, they are so innocent and see the world in such a beautiful way. Even before this second illness, I used to say I wanted to have children and adopt as well. I truly believe God has a plan for everybody, and He wants me to be a mom still, He just has a different path in mind. Although this does not fully take away the pain and sadness I have, it does put me at peace. I’ve told my family it hurts to know I can’t pass my genes down, and they told me that does not make my future child my child. I can pass my values and beliefs and love down, and it will be the same. There will be a baby (hopefully babies) out there that need me to be their mommy one day.
I was skeptical posting this and opening up because I was afraid I would feel embarrassed or ashamed. But I have had so many wonderful individuals that supported and loved me through it all, and I know that support system is not going anywhere. I am so blessed to have so many amazing people help me in so many ways, so thank you.
I hope that my story, even the hard to tell parts, will help somebody out there. Please share this if you do know somebody. I know it took me a while to begin to process this hardship in my life, but I am doing it. So please, seek support or help if you can relate. Take that advice for any hardship in our lives, we cannot do it all alone.